Sunday 23 April 2023

Another Rarity - Brown-eared Bulbul

Po Toi is traditionally our best birding spot in Hong Kong to spot migrants, it is our most southerly island and often attract a good number of migrants. Over the years this is one of the best birding spot to look for rarity during spring and autumn, with some pretty incredible sightings in the past. 

Last week someone spotted a Brown-eared Bulbul on the island, this is only the 4th record in Hong Kong, with previous 3 records all just one day birds. While this is a very common species in Japan, they rarely venture to southern China, with most records concentrated to Taiwan and the east coast of China. Since the bird continued to be seen throughout the week, I thought I may as well give it a try. Luckily for me, it stayed on and after a little bit of effort on the island, I got some good views of it perched on top of a bare branch. This bird was extremely mobile, it was seen flying from one end of the island to the other, the best strategy in the end was just to stand at one spot and wait for it to come through.

Brown-eared Bulbul - a Hong Kong tick for me

Brown-eared Bulbul - showing the interesting undertail coverts

It was quite a misty day with a bit of drizzle in the air, the continued easterly winds probably helped to bring in a few birds as well. There were plenty of birds to see as we waited for the bulbul, including a male Chestnut Bunting, a male Black-naped Oriole and a few Eyebrowed Thrush. Dollarbirds were also seen, but they were perched too far away that I didn't bother taking any photos.

Chestnut Bunting - male

Black-naped Oriole - male

Eyebrowed Thrush

There was a flock of four minivets, initially I thought they were all Ashy Minivets as I saw a female perched on top of a tree, on closer inspection however revealed that the other three were actually Swinhoe's Minivets! While they are regular passage migrants in Hong Kong, Swinhoe's Minivets are considerably less common than Ashy Minivets. They gave great views for me despite perching a bit high up. The two species look quite similar, but Swinhoe's Minivets have buffish underside, while Ashy Minivets always have very pale underside.

Ashy Minivet - female

Swinhoe's Minivet - male

Along the mangrove a distant Black-capped Kingfisher showed briefly, I relocated it perched even further away into the forest later on. A Eurasian Hoopoe was a lot friendlier, this one perched only a few metres away from me for a couple of minutes, allowing me to get a few good shots before flying off.

Black-capped Kingfisher

Eurasian Hoopoe

There were good numbers of Chinese Sparrowhawks around, most were seen in flight, but some occasionally will perch for a decent view, such as this nice looking male.

Chinese Sparrowhawk - female

Chinese Sparrowhawk - male

Other birds seen in the air were numerous Pacific Swifts. A couple of Grey-faced Buzzards came through, this is another classic migrant raptor in Hong Kong, some flew low enough for me to grab some decent photos. Two birds were seen chasing each other in the air at great speed, which I initially thought were two Chinese Sparrowhawks fighting, I was a bit surprise when I reviewed the photos that it was actually a Japanese Sparrowhawk chasing an Oriental Cuckoo!

Pacific Swift
Grey-faced Buzzard

Japanese Sparrowhawk & Oriental Cuckoo

Over at San Tin, there isn't a lot of new arrivals, a small flock of Sand Martins were the best I could manage, I spent a little bit of time trying to get some photos of them in flight, here are a few that turned out decent enough.

Sand Martin

Over at Mai Po, many migrating waders are still coming through, I got some closer views of Black-tailed Godwits on the scrape the other day, while a Great Knot came up really close to the bird hide, allowing for some closeup shots. Whimbrels are also in quite good numbers now. A Black Kite came through and flushed everything up in the air, turns out it actually snatched a Red-necked Stint from the flock, the Black Kites in Mai Po is actually quite peculiar in that they actively hunt for birds instead of just feeding on carrion.

Black-tailed Godwit

Great Knot

Eurasian Whimbrel

Black Kite with Red-necked Stint

A single Pallas's Gull remains, which is quite unusual as we don't usually get them staying on this late, this is a non-breeding bird so there is actually a chance it may over summer here in Mai Po. Many Black-faced Spoonbills are still around, as well as a few Eurasian Spoonbills.

Pallas's Gull

Black-faced and Eurasian Spoonbill

Cattle Egrets are now in full breeding plumage, many were seen on the buffalo field at Mai Po, posing next to water buffalos in the most classic fashion. Good numbers of Chinese Penduline Tits can still be found around the reedbeds, although close views still require a bit of luck! Red-throated Pipits are still around, although numbers seems to have dropped from earlier in the month.

Cattle Egret

Chinese Penduline Tit - female

Red-throated Pipit

One of my better find at Mai Po were a few Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, having missed them last year I was very happy to connect with them again! While this is actually a very common species in South East Asia, here in Hong Kong we only get them as a scarce passage migrant.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater

Sunday 16 April 2023

Chinese Grassbird and Other Spring Time Specialties

Seeing migrants is certainly a highlight during spring, although this is also a really good time to look for some of our rarer breeding species. Chinese Grassbird is a scarce species in Hong Kong, you can only find them in grassland and short bamboo thickets up near the summit of taller mountains. Tai Mo Shan is perhaps one of the stronghold for this species, although finding them still require a bit of luck. I find April to be one of the best month of the year to locate them, as this is when they are most vocal. A client specifically wanted to look for our montane species, and Chinese Grassbird is of course one of our main target. We got lucky and found this pair up on Tai Mo Shan, of which I believe to be a breeding pair. They showed incredibly well despite it being a very misty morning, we got great views! We didn't see that much up there that day, partly due to the mist, but a Brown-flanked Bush Warbler also showed well. 

Chinese Grassbird - a pair together

Brown-flanked Bush Warbler

We tried Shek Kong Catchment at the lower elevation and connected with both a male Hainan Blue Flycatcher in song, as well as a sub-adult male Narcissus Flycatcher. Hainan Blue Flycatchers seems to be slightly behind schedule this year, but they are finally arriving and we are now hearing them in many of our forested areas. The most interesting observation at Shek Kong Catchment was however not a bird, but a Yellow Coster, a rare butterfly species in Hong Kong.
Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

Narcissus Flycatcher - sub-adult male

Yellow Coster - Acraea issoria

I tried Kap Lung one day and yielded three Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoos and a male Blue-and-White Flycatcher, although none of those stayed long enough for a photo. Most of the birds that are still there were busy either building nests or pairing up, here a Blue-winged Minla gathering nesting materials and one of a pair of Mountain Bulbul along the trail.

Blue-winged Minla

Mountain Bulbul

Over at Mai Po, other than the numerous Little and Black-faced Buntings along the footpath, a female Brambling was spotted feeding on the Casuarina, this species is a regular spring migrant in Hong Kong, while I most often see them on Po Toi, this was actually the first time seeing one in Mai Po.

Brambling - female

A few Little Terns have been frequenting the scrape during high tide, occasionally feeding relatively close to the bird hide. Many Gull-billed Terns also came into the scrape to roost.

Little Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Other than the regular waders, up to 9 Nordmann's Greenshanks been seen on the scrape this week, quite a good count for this Endangered species. While seeing them on the scrape is relatively easy, having them close enough for photo is not, unfortunately all of them roosted quite far away from the bird hide, I only managed a few record photos.

Common (left) & Nordmann's Greenshank (right)

Nordmann's Greenshank

The drained pond at San Tin continues to produce a good number of waders, being able to get lower down also enable me to get some more decent photos of these migrants. Here, a tagged Curlew Sandpiper amongst the flock, apparently tagged in Australia!

Curlew Sandpiper

There were plenty of Red-necked Stints there, a common species I've always had a soft spot for. The Little Stint I recently found was nowhere to be found.

Red-necked Stint

Long-toed Stints are now in very good numbers, this is one of the most colourful of the stints and surely one of the prettiest. The three Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were still present.

Long-toed Stint

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Other than waders, numerous Eastern Yellow Wagtails were feeding on the same pond, many of them in full breeding plumage looking very bright!

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

I've been far too busy to check Tai Mei Tuk Catchment, but I am very glad to went there for a quick walk one morning. A single female Yellow-billed Grosbeak was seen, which is my first sighting of this species here. A rather confiding Velvet-fronted Nuthatch showed well, a species I seldom see here. The best bird of the morning was no doubt an adult male Narcissus Flycatcher, which showed really well. 

Yellow-billed Grosbeak - female

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Narcissus Flycatcher - male

Finally, as it gets warmer, more insects are now emerging and becoming active, a South China Moon Moth was one of the more spectacular looking species you can come across at this time of the year. 

South China Moon Moth - Actias sinensis